A year ago, a couple of powerful voices asked the Federal Reserve not to raise loan costs out of worry that it would moderate worldwide development and fuel money related disturbances. Bolstered authorities listened respectfully, then trekked rates in December and hence delayed. Given late improvements in the outside trade showcases, some of these voices may now be thinking about whether the Fed ought to resume its rate increments.
This apparently conflicting manner of thinking mirrors the unfavorable conditions that have risen up out of the drawn out quest for an exceptionally imbalanced monetary arrangement blend by the world's most-systemically vital economies. This trifecta of conditions incorporates a design of cutting edge economy trade rates that appears to no more react "typically" to loan cost differentials; halfway arrangement measures whose effect could not hope to compare to the impacts that would come about because of a more extensive approach, and developing dangers of transmitting rushes of insecurity through worldwide monetary markets.
In normally functioning economies, a rise in interest rates would help slow the economy by making borrowing-driven consumption and investment more expensive. It would have a concurrent impact on the cross-border flows of funds, attracting higher inflows as investors seek to capture the greater financial returns. The resulting appreciation in the currency, assuming it is floating relatively cleanly, also would make exports less competitive, adding to the economic slowdown.
Before the Fed's policy meeting in December, some -- including the International Monetary Fund -- understandably worried that an interest rate hike by the world's most important central bank might disrupt the global economy, which had yet to establish a sufficiently firm economic and financial footing. Even though these experts acknowledged that the U.S. was the best positioned of the advanced economies in terms of growth and job creation, they expressed concerns that higher Fed rates could suck capital out of emerging countries, lead to a more general slowing of growth and risk global financial instability. Developments in January and early February seemed to confirm their concerns, even though a Chinese growth scare probably had a much bigger influence on markets than the Fed's policy move.
At least on paper, the Fed's small step toward tightening monetary policy was more than offset by the policy loosening that followed by three other systemically important central banks -- China, the euro zone and Japan. Deploying a combination of lower interest rates, including negative ones in Europe and Japan, and stepped-up asset purchases, the three banks made a valiant effort to stimulate demand, both directly and by attempting to depreciate their currency.
A few months later, the impact on global currencies has been counter-intuitive, and counter-productive for global rebalancing. Instead of depreciating, the euro and the yen have appreciated notably against the dollar, adding to the headwinds for growth and inflation. Last week, the U.S. Treasury placed five countries, including China, Japan and Germany, on a watch list. Their foreign-exchange practices will be closely monitored to determine whether they are obtaining an unfair trade advantage.
So what explains these topsy-turvy foreign-exchange markets?
As I argued in March, beyond a certain point, interest-rate differentials can lose their effectiveness in driving exchange rates. And even if this were not the case, the hoped-for impact on growth would be defeated by the more pervasive problems of insufficient structural growth engines, aggregate demand deficiencies, alarming inequality and pockets of excessive indebtedness.
This is another reason to warn against the continued reliance on what has proven to be a highly imbalanced economic policy stance. The longer the systemically important countries persist with an excessive dependence on central banks -- and fail to pivot to a more comprehensive policy response -- the greater the risk that the global economy will incur the costs of currency volatility while capturing few, if any, of the benefits of hoped-for exchange-rate moves. All the while, currency movements could become even more counter-intuitive.